That won't be necessary, Roy's voice says in a tone that could flash-freeze lava. Hawkeye murmurs something, seconding him, and if that's not the voice of a woman with her hand on the hilt of her gun Al will—
Nothing. He won't do anything, because he can't seem to wake up, and he doesn't know what's real and what isn't.
The explosions are rocking the ground under his feet as he runs, gunfire hammering in his ears, the thick smells of smoke and gunpowder and blood and, improbably, patchouli clogging his nose and lungs and making him choke. Something screams over the rooftops and smashes through stone over his head. The alley collapses in front of him with a roar; Al glances back, pulls out some chalk—nearly drops it, because human hands shake—and draws an array, lightning-fast. Wind and sand roar ahead of him, knocking aside most of the debris, and he clambers over the rest. He lands on his hands and knees in a pool of blood and brains and glances up. There are bodies all down the alley in front of him like so many lumps of discarded clothing, some of them wearing military uniforms. Al picks himself up and runs.
—never seen him so pissed off, Havoc's voice says from nowhere. No slinking down behind the desks, fuck that, we ran for our lives and hid in the coat closet with Black Hayate—
The gunfire is still too close, the edge of town still too far away, and Al can't run anymore. He braces himself against a wrought-iron fence and bends over, breathing in convulsive agonal gasps, and notices only then that he's been shot.
When he wipes his mouth and looks up, Havoc is sitting on a low wall, cigarette dangling from his mouth. —court-martial, but that might just be a rumor, Havoc says, and Al stares blankly at him. Nothing for you to—time Mustang's done venting his wrath and laying waste to Central you'll—us where you belong.
"You aren't really here," Al tells him wearily.
Hey, did—hear that—
There's a click from behind him and the cold metal of a gun barrel presses behind his ear. Al closes his eyes, so tired, and slowly moves his chalk toward the wall beside the gate.
Breda, get the General.
The sun's setting. Al sits in a doorway puzzling absently over the problem of what array to draw to bandage his arm before he bleeds to death. He wonders where everyone else is; they scattered when Hakuro gave the order to retreat. Porterfield got three steps away from the battle line before the back of his head exploded, so Al supposes he knows where Porterfield is, but that leaves a lot of soldiers and a handful of alchemists unaccounted for.
I should never have let that incompetent bastard worm his way around the Fuhrer until he got Al assigned to his unit, Roy's voice says. Al—can you hear me?
He said something a minute ago, Boss, Havoc says, invisible.
"I miss Ed," Al says to the stifling air, rubbing sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. He doesn't think Roy and Havoc, wherever they are, can hear him. "I deserve this, it's only equivalent exchange, and I still can't stop missing him."
—saying something about Ed—
The house behind him is full of blood smears on the walls. The family who lived there is still inside. Al can hear flies buzzing. "I didn't mean to," he says.
Alphonse, Roy's voice says, and the first cool breeze of evening brushes Al's cheek like a caress. He leans into it, wishing.
—really am going to have to insist that you—- says a new voice, whiny and unpleasant. Al doesn't like this voice. He hopes she's not his conscience, because he really doesn't want to listen to that for the rest of his life, however short the rest of his life might be.
Hawkeye, secure that door! Roy snaps.
"I want to go home," Al says, and from somewhere in the twilight Hawkeye's ghost says, That's already been arranged.
He's blind when he wakes, and finds that he doesn't care. He turns his head a little, thirsty and in pain, and waits for the gunshot.
"Al? Are you awake?" Roy whispers.
"—don't know," Al croaks.
"Don't try to open your eyes," Roy says. "You've had a nasty head injury, among other things. There's a bandage over your eyes. When it comes off you'll be able to see just fine."
Al tries to frown and gives up when it causes his forehead serious pain. "Where am I?"
"The field hospital in Liore. Don't worry, we've secured this section of the city. Are you thirsty?"
Al nods, carefully, wincing at the brightly colored pain that blooms behind his eyelids. A hand slides behind his neck and there's a glass at his lips; he drinks as best he can, not caring when the water spills down his face.
"Why is everyone here?" he asks.
"Someone had to clean up after Hakuro's incompetence," Roy says grimly. "My troops and I were in range and mobile."
He wants to ask after Ed and doesn't. This is his penance, after all. But it seems that Roy has been taking mindreading lessons from Hawkeye, and he answers the question anyway.
"Ed's on his way. He was on the other side of the country. I couldn't afford not to recall him; he knows Liore and he can transmute rubble back into functional structures faster than anyone else in the military." Roy sighs, making Al wonder if it's as late as it feels. "I've left word for him at Command, so as soon as he gets here he'll know that we found you."
Ed doesn't know he's alive. Al feels like crying.
"Damn it," Roy breathes. "This should never have fallen apart like this. What in hell did Hakuro do?"
Al swallows convulsively and pulls himself together, preparing to give a report. "We got here four days ago," he says, trying to organize his thoughts. "When we—"
"Alphonse," Roy says. "I've been briefed, or as close to briefed as I'm likely to get for a while. You can give me more information the next time I can get away from Command. I don't even want to think about what will happen to me if you get worse because I let you talk too long. Hawkeye's already done something to the head nurse that I don't dare ask about in case it turns out to be something I have to take official notice of."
Al tries to smile, but it's a weak attempt, and he winds up wishing he hadn't.
"Go back to sleep," Roy says, and Al supposes he'd better do as he's told.
"If you ever do this to me again I will kill you," Ed says.
Al blinks his eyes open and sees the grey light of morning slanting across the ceiling. Everything's blurry, so he blinks some more.
"You don't even know what I'm going to do to you," Ed goes on. "Six alchemists dead out of eight and the other two missing, that was all I heard before I got on the fucking train, and I—I'm putting you back in the armor, Al, I'm serious."
Al snorts with something that, he realizes with wonder, might actually be laughter. "You say that like nothing like this has ever happened to us before."
"That was different, Al!" Ed snaps. He's sitting by the bed, looking drawn and exhausted, black circles under his eyes. "We were together! You were never too far away for me to—to find you, to get to you before anything really bad could happen to you. This is—fuck, how do you think I felt when—"
Apparently realizing that he's berating a man on his deathbed, Ed sits back and rubs his hands over his face. "Fuck, Al. What in the hell were you trying to prove?"
"Brother, you just got here. Don't make me hit you," Al warns him.
Ed snorts. "Just got here, huh? I've been here for three days. I've come to see you as often as I can, but—it's a mess, Al. We need four times as many people as are here and can pitch in. Even so, I'd have been here the whole time if Mustang hadn't put Havoc on permanent Al duty."
Al feels a rather horrendous stab of guilt. "But—"
"Well, it's not so much Al duty as hospital security duty," Ed corrects himself hastily. "Somebody's got to. There's still fighting going on in places."
Tipped off by something indefinable in his brother's voice, Al studies Ed for a long, suspicious moment, until—yes, there it is, Ed starts to squirm and scowls down at his hands. "What's wrong?" Al asks.
"Don't be mad, Al," Ed orders.
Al closes his eyes, suddenly rediscovering his headache. Ed telling people not to be mad is never, ever a good sign.
"It wasn't my idea, anyway, except it would have been, but—well, okay, let me back up. Mustang's out for Hakuro's balls, and if he can't get those then he's going to have his alchemists and whatever soldiers he can wrestle away from him instead. I mean, there are only two of you left, god, Al, I'm so sorry, but anyway, by the time Mustang's done lighting people's dicks on fire you're going to be back at Eastern under his command, you and a dozen or so other people. He says he'll be damned if he's going to let good men and women stay under a commander who could start a forest fire by pissing on a match."
"The General said that?" Al asked, mildly scandalized in spite of himself.
Ed gave an impatient wave. "Well, he said something like that. Anyway, Hakuro's here in the hospital, and word is Mustang and Hawkeye went into his room and closed the door and came out ten minutes later with a stack of signed transfer forms. So, just—for fuck's sake, Al, come home."
Right back where he started from, and all this—trying to let go, trying to walk away so that it wouldn't hurt so much when Ed inevitably managed to win the perpetual far-ranging war for Roy Mustang's bed and heart, if he hasn't won it already in the months Al has been gone—all of it for nothing. Al might care about that later. Right now he's exhausted, and Ed hasn't been taking care of himself. "You're tired," he says, and holds out an arm.
Ed starts forward, then hesitates. "Al, you're still all banged up."
"You've given me bloody noses with your automail before," Al says. "Come to bed."
A strange look flits over Ed's face, followed by disgust at himself for some reason. He shrugs off his coat and climbs into bed, smelling of acrid smoke. There's a moment of indecisive angling for position before he settles for crawling over Al to settle on his side with his automail arm over Al's chest, resting carefully on the blanket. "This okay?"
"Okay," Al murmurs, and nearly laughs. "I missed you, brother."
"I missed you too, stupid," Ed says, his voice wavering dangerously. "Go back to sleep."
After a while, the door opens abruptly. Ed shifts beside him; there's a soft clap and the shinnng of a blade emerging from automail, and the door closes again.
A few days later, Al wakes in the middle of the night to find that there's paperwork scattered all over the side of the bed. Peering over it, he finds that Mustang has replaced Hawkeye in bedside detail and is poring over reports. Trying not to disturb anything, Al stretches and sorts out cramped limbs, hampered a bit by the fact that Ed is sprawled half on top of him and snoring softly in his ear.
"You're awake," Mustang observes without looking up. He signs something and sets it aside to turn his attention to Al. "Alphonse, we need to talk."
Uh-oh, Al thinks. Carefully, he wriggles out from under Ed and rolls onto his side to lift himself onto his elbow. Ed mutters crankily in his sleep and flings his automail arm over Al's ribs, making Al bite down on a pained yelp. Mustang winces in sympathy.
"You never told me why you wanted to take the exam," he says. "I'm not asking now. I'm only mentioning it so you know I'm not unaware that there might be—issues here that I don't know about."
Al feels himself pale a little. There are a lot of issues Roy doesn't know about, in fact, and Al doesn't want him ever knowing about them, any of them.
"Regardless, I need you back at Eastern," Roy goes on, dark eyes studying Al closely, shadowed in the dim light. "You've done brilliantly here, as expected, but you and Ed work so well as a team that it's unproductive to split you up. And—well, the truth is that Edward can be a bit unmanageable without you around."
Ed's awake now, listening. Al can feel it in the tenseness of the body spooned against him.
"This isn't a failure, Alphonse. It isn't a setback. It's me realizing that I allowed a valuable resource to get away from me and hurt my own command by doing it. I nearly lost—" Mustang pauses for a moment, choosing his words. "I nearly lost a brilliant alchemist and a valuable check on my best operative. That was a tactical error. I'm remedying it now and having you transferred back into my unit."
Behind Al, Ed sits half up to lean over and rest his sharp chin on Al's arm just below the shoulder. "Your half of our room's still empty," he says.
"I tried to assign someone there once," Roy says in the tones of a man pained by an old wound.
"We'll get a kitten, too," Ed says.
Al's heart leaps for a moment before reality settles back in. "We couldn't take care of one, brother, and you know it. We're gone too often," he says sadly.
"We're gone," Ed answers. "Mustang, there, on the other hand, is a deskbound slacker. He can take care of the cat while we're out of town."
Al looks back at Roy, who has a wickedly efficient-looking sidearm strapped to his belt and a long bruised scrape down his cheekbone and certainly doesn't look like a deskbound slacker. "Ed, don't volunteer the General for things."
"We'll discuss it if the situation arises," Roy says absently. His mind is clearly on other things, Elric-shaped things, and suddenly Al realizes how this must look—the two of them in the same bed, Ed draped over Al with his usual stunning lack of regard for propriety, shame, or social conventions. Suddenly Al doesn't want to look at Roy, can't look at him, because if there's the smallest flicker of disgust or suspicion in his eyes it's going to break Al's heart into a thousand pieces.
"Al, what's wrong?" Ed demands with his usual lack of tact, poking Al in the ribs. "Hey, I didn't mean—"
"It's not that," Al says wearily, feeling guilty and uncomfortably transparent.
"He's tired, Fullmetal," Roy says. "It's the middle of the night and he's still healing."
Startled, Al looks back at Roy, and of all the things he thinks he sees in Roy's face, none of them looks like disgust. Maybe he doesn't—, he starts to think—and then stops, because he has the nagging suspicion that Roy does. Either way, it doesn't seem to matter, because Roy is watching both of them with fond, lazy eyes that look like they could be stirred to heat very easily.
Suddenly Al has the distinct impression that life might become very interesting very quickly if he craned his neck around and slipped his tongue into Ed's mouth, and that's a shock he's not quite sure he's ready for. Not to mention the question of how well he'd get on without a tongue after Ed had bitten it off.
Or how well he'd get on without a brother, afterward. Because, if he's honest with himself, Al hasn't been doing too well on that front for the last few months.
"Go back to sleep," Roy says to both of them, turning back to his paperwork. "We'll talk more about this in the morning if we need to."
Ed frowns at Roy while simultanously prodding Al back down into the blankets. "When do you sleep, stupid Colonel?"
"That's stupid General to you, Edward," Roy says absently, angling a piece of rather crumpled paper closer to the light.
Al wants to tell him that there's room on the bed. He wants, so very much, to burrow in between Roy's warmth and Ed's, to have both of them in arm's reach where he can keep them safe. There isn't room, though—it's a standard-issue hospital bed, and there really isn't even room for Ed—so Al settles for telling him goodnight, and drifts off to sleep to Ed's drowsy muttering and the patient rustling of paper.